Skype’s New Dawn?

We talk about Facebook, twitter, MySpace and Friendster as the big social networks but we keep forgetting one that is far bigger than that: Skype. This from a Bloomberg piece on Skype’s vacillating fortunes:

Skype has soared in popularity since it started in 2003 and has about 548 million users worldwide—more than Facebook, MySpace and Twitter combined.

Pretty much everyone I know is on Skype—more so than Facebook—and their investment in it is greater: They had to figure out how to install software, set up a microphone, a webcam, create an account, and maybe even buy credit. More importantly, they can actually estimate its value to them, by counting the money it’s saved them, if they want.

We all know about eBay’s missteps with Skype over the past few years and the software could definitely do with a total overhaul. But now there are new faces involved—including Marc Andreessen, who knows a thing or two—I foresee huge opportunities ahead.

One is a route they’re clearly going to take: the enterprise. That makes sense, but it also means damping down Skype’s huge social reputation, since companies will tend to think of it as at best a frivolous time waster for its employees, at worst a security threat.

Still, it would make lots of sense to go that route, possibly creating a separate sub brand of Skype that built a wall between the existing network of users and the enterprise one.

But I think there’s a much bigger opportunity out there, one that was talked up back in 2005 but never left the ground. That was leveraging the free connectivity to allow an eco system of services to develop atop of it.

Consulting, translation, education, all that kind of thing.

This never really took off, but I think that may have had more to do with its execution, and the fact that the world wasn’t quite ready. Most people signed up to Skype for the free calls. They weren’t really interested in more than that.

And yet since then Facebook and other social networks have. (Taken off, I mean.) Doing, actually, pretty much the same thing. Setting up an account, adding your buddies to it, and then communicating.

But the potential of that network was never exploited. A few memory-hogging applications and a few desultory ads have been pretty much it.

Maybe now Skype can make the most of this. One is the eco system of services I mentioned, but there are also location-based opportunities, mobile opportunities, video opportunities.

If Skype dovetailed with Facebook, twitter and LinkedIn it could position itself at the heart of social media. After all, it’s probably the only application that most Internet users have installed, loaded and active on their computer. Unlike Facebook et al, Skype is there, right in the moment. It’s the ultimate presence app.

Indeed, it’s much more like an instant Rolodex (remember those?) than all the other networking services we use. If I want to contact someone the first place I check is Skype—if they’re online, what’s the point of contacting them any other way?

In other words, Skype offers a granularity that other social networking tools don’t: Not only is it comfortable with one to all (the status update message), it’s also comfortable with the one to several (add people to a chat or call), it’s also great at instantly connecting one on one. You can even reach people offline via it, if they have call forwarding enable, or you have their SMS details stored.

No other social network offers that.

Of course, Skype has some ways to go to do this. The interface needs a serious rethink: It looks so 2000s.

It needs to add—or reintroduce—lots of features, like individual invisibility (being invisible to some people and not others), to encourage those who either don’t have it running or have themselves permanently invisible, to keep it there in their system tray.

It needs to lower some of its walls to allow interoperability with other chat clients, like Google Talk, and with services like Facebook and LinkedIn. Indeed it should throw open all its doors, so I can look up my friends on the Skype app and communicate with them using any or all of those services. Skype is the app is the network.

Then we might be back to those heady days of 2004-2005 when Skype looked like it was not just going to be the end of ruinous IDD phone monopolies, but that it might herald a new era of networking.

The iPhone Dream

Shocking pricing from New Zealand’s vodafone, the first country to launch the iPhone 3G. A $200 iPhone? More like $2,000-$5,000 after charges.

As ReadWriteWeb points out:

Carrier greed worldwide is probably the major reason why the Mobile Web is struggling to take off.

You can’t blame them for trying to make some money while they still can, because that scraping sound is the rats trying to secure stowage on a sinking ship.

Vodafone NZ Charges “Like a Wounded Bull” For iPhone 3G – ReadWriteWeb

The iPhone Dream

Shocking pricing from New Zealand’s vodafone, the first country to launch the iPhone 3G. A $200 iPhone? More like $2,000-$5,000 after charges.

As ReadWriteWeb points out:

Carrier greed worldwide is probably the major reason why the Mobile Web is struggling to take off.

You can’t blame them for trying to make some money while they still can, because that scraping sound is the rats trying to secure stowage on a sinking ship.

Vodafone NZ Charges “Like a Wounded Bull” For iPhone 3G – ReadWriteWeb

Skype SMS’ Teething Problems

You’ve probably all heard of Skype’s new SMS service, which is very cool. If you have a Skype-Out account, you can send SMS messages to cellphones and, if you register you cellphone number with Skype, the recipients can reply to you on your mobile phone. Great idea. Only problem: It doesn’t work.

Well, it does work, but not always. At least one cellular operator doesn’t seem to pass the messages on. That wouldn’t be a problem, except that Skype says that the message has been delivered, and charges you for it. Teething troubles, I guess, but still a nuisance, if you’re counting your Skype pennies. (This experiment has so far set me back €0,44. Money that has gone forever. Forever.) Other folk are reporting similar problems, although it doesn’t sound widespread.

Skype’s technical people say you should raise a help ticket if this happens to you. The only problem is: How do you know that it doesn’t get through? An interesting conundrum as Skype ventures into new waters. Consider: Cellular SMS supports a service which allows you to receive notification of the arrival of your message; Skype users can tell whether other Skype members are online and available. But now you can send an SMS to someone, unless the pending/delivered/failed notification feature works properly, all those presence/delivery indicators are out the window.

A weird disjuncture, given that Skype is best used for non-local calls. Skype is all about reaching beyond the tyranny of long distance communication costs. And the same is true of Skype SMS, I suspect, especially in those places where SMS is very cheap. Here in Indonesia, for example, cellular SMS to an Indonesian phone costs 250 rupiah, or 3 US cents. A Skype SMS costs 14 US cents. No one is going to send a Skype SMS to someone locally if that kind of price difference exists. So Skype SMS might best work if you want to communicate with someone who is not at their computer, or doesn’t have Skype (or doesn’t have a computer) but doesn’t live in your zone. Not a bad niche. But the problem still remains: If SMS via Skype is really going to kick in, reliability is going to be an issue. Who is going to use the service if they have no way of knowing whether their messages landed?

Something that Skype needs to fix.

Skype’s 100 Million: Where The Hell Are They?

Internet telephony folks Skype today says that it now has 100 million registered users. A press release (free registration required) says that this was achieved in “just two-and-a-half year’s time [sic], and has nearly doubled in size from September 2005 when it had 54 million registered users.” This is truly impressive. But if this is the case, where the hell is everyone?

My Skype currently shows 3,633,607 users online. Admittedly this is during the Asian day, when traffic is not as high as when the Europeans and Americans wake up. But that’s less than 4% of registered users actually online. OK, allowing for people who are ‘away’ (I believe this excludes them from being counted) and for folk who only go online occasionally, and allowing for the vagaries of actually reporting the total number of users online (actually, another 6,000 users have appeared since I started writing this paragraph), I can’t help wondering whether the 100 million figure is a) a wild exaggeration, down to people registering twice, b) people registering and then ditching it or c) the number of users that appears in the Skype program is just not reflecting reality.

No question Skype is big. And good: Everyone I know has it, some of them people who have resisted the Internet age on an almost Luddite scale. But I just wonder where all those tens of millions of people are. What’s the biggest number we’ve seen online? Anyone seen more than 10 million in one go?